Monday, August 22, 2016

Contempt and Coming Home

I prayed a prayer yesterday, for someone else. But God did not listen to the someone else part; He answered for me instead.

I had been struck by a person earlier that day, how quickly and almost causally contempt overtook them. They would just be sitting there, being their sweet self, and negativity would burst forth. It came so hot and so often, it was like tuning into someone's “umms” or chewing noises, once you've heard it you can't stop hearing it. Then I started paying attention to how this was making me feel, and I noticed I felt completely thrown off and worn down by it. The pleasant conversation would so abruptly switch, not to words against me necessarily, just to words against. And I got so tired of trying to keep myself positive, trying to fight off the meanness of it, that I just wanted to leave.

I don't think they mean to be this way, I thought. I know this person. This is a lovely person. But this is not lovely. This is the opposite. It occurred to me that they probably are not even hearing it anymore. That contempt had become a habit, like a bad smell in your own house when the only one not smelling it is you. God, I prayed, give them new ears to hear their own words, and their sweet spirit, that wants wholeness, will answer you.

In my experience, God always takes our prayers a little more seriously than we take them.

So, wouldn't you know, there I was yesterday talking. Being my sweet self on a lawn chair in a group of women I love on the most beautiful day. Pleasant, pleasant, affirming, and contributing. And suddenly, out of my mouth, lava. It struck without warning. It was one of those moments when you say something and the words just hang in the air in front of you, you can't escape them, you just have to sit there in a circle with your friends and look at them as they ring over and over in the new ears that you prayed for someone else but God gave you. He had not stopped at new ears either. My new eyes took in the moment, the faces of those women, and I saw how the words had struck, and how I had thrown them off balance.

I wanted to leave, immediately. I wanted to hide. I told myself to shut up, to be quiet and be kind. My shame did the opposite though. It just released more poison in me. And there it came, out again, words like acid, against against against. Contempt and me fought a battle and I lost. I left and I wished I wouldn't have ever brought my monster of a self there. I shouldn't have left my house. I shouldn't be allowed to have friends or say words (this is how I was feeling).

Contempt has a fortress built up in my heart. Seriously, a bunker. It is dug down deep and built up high and I have been trying to dismantle it for years. As I reflect this morning, I am reminded that shame and isolation and fear often seem like the tools to defeat it, but they just add to the layers of protection around it. Honesty, compassion, and repentance are the only things I can used to tear this down.

With honesty in my hands, I can admit that I keep contempt around, even though I hate it, because it makes me feel strong and it makes me feel legitimate. I use it to bully my way into a space in the world, into having a voice, into making allies by pointing out enemies. These are the lies I have bought again and again, that contempt works. Praise God, for new ears, new eyes: it doesn't work. It delivers the opposite of what it's selling. It discredits my voice with its violence, it steps into a space that isn't mine and so I can't fill the spot I was meant to fill, and it pushes away the people I was trying to be close to with its manipulation.

Compassion comes to replace shame when I remember that God knows all about my monster-self already. So do all my friends. The only one who doesn't notice the contempt smell in my house is me. My shame comes from thinking I was keeping this a secret, that I was fooling them all, and now I've been found out and everyone is going to leave. But come on, it was no secret, and yet I will gather with all those women again, many times. Of course I am lacking, just like the friend I loved and prayed for that started this whole thing, and no one is really that shocked about it. What freedom! I am loved anyway.

Repentance means to turn. Turn back, turn around, come home. That's what I am hearing this morning: the strong, kind voice of God. "Don't be afraid," He is saying, "you've wandered down that old path again, you got confused about who you are and what you need, just turn around and come back, Kylee."  And here it is, my own sweet spirit, who wants wholeness, answering.

We can trust these things. We can come home. We can choose the new thing. We can keep choosing it. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

On Women (Probably Works for Men Too) Showing Up

I haven't blogged in a couple years, but I just keep wanting to say this and it's too long for Twitter.

A few months ago, I went to a conference. At this conference there was a breakout session for women in leadership. I was hesitant. I didn't want to sit in a room with angry people if it was going to be an angry sort of thing. That this was my first thought about what women in leadership are like, as a woman in leadership, was troubling. So I went. It was beautiful from the moment it began until the moment it ended.

Each of us were encouraged to investigate what it meant for us to lead as ourselves, not as any other person. We were given time to examine our own stories and callings. We were told that leadership is a skill that can be practiced. In all of this, I found immense comfort, challenge, and freedom.

I am not a meek or mild person. I can assert myself all day long, to be honest. This isn't something I would say that I struggle with. I charge forward into most situations whether I'm feeling "charge-y" or not, and usually it's the not. In fact, the more scared and small I'm feeling, the "braver" and bigger I get. Knowing this about myself, I have spent the last several years trying to punch myself down. I have tried to quiet this over-assertive self by piling contempt on her: "don't be the angry person," "don't be the critical person," "be a team player," "don't ask too much," the list goes on.

That day, in that conference, as I was given time to reflect on my story and on my calling, I realized that I've always been a person that needed to say what she felt was true. There are stories from before I can remember about me, not even in school yet, calling out what I saw as inconsistencies and injustice around me. And I realized, this is something good that God placed in me. This is not something to be piling "angry woman" contempt on. And just as strongly, just as early in my story, I remembered that God had also placed in me a need to draw attention to the beauty I saw. My mother is like this. I remember walking down the dirt road by our house as child with her pointing out wildflowers and the way their colors spoke to each other.

So I wrote down something I had known all along, but had never written down: "I am called to see and speak about the beauty and the [baloney]  ...and I can PRACTICE THIS SKILL."

Those last words were accompanied by many exclamation points and underlining and stars.

Ever since, I have felt this challenge and this freedom, and I would offer it to you. The challenge is: what if you showed up to your life and relationships and work, without contempt for yourself or apology? What if you offered what you saw and believed and had to say with the increasing confidence and humility that comes from knowing it was God who gave you your eyes and heart and words, and it was God who gave you the person in front of you that you're speaking to?

The freedom I would offer is: this is a skill you are practicing. It is okay to not do it perfectly. If you have spent years pushing yourself down, of course you are not going to stand up perfectly in these first moments. Even if you come on too strong, sisters, AT LEAST YOU CAME.

We will learn, if we practice, and if we practice together.

Friday, October 25, 2013

For the Perfectionists

I've been doing a lot of failing lately. 
Or at least coming up seriously short.
Or at least-est feeling incredibly insecure. 

Anyone else ever been so suddenly confronted by your own lack? By your inability to be enough, seemingly in every sphere of your life? It seems to me that I've entered such a season. My job, my hobbies, my relationships, my writing, my speaking, my appearance, my house, all things I've felt relatively sure of myself in most of the time, or for some just from time to time, feel...shaken. Every where I look I'm coming up short and my best efforts don't seem to be cutting it.

I wake up at four in the morning and run this list of failures over and over in my head. Something stupid I said that day, something I missed, something someone misunderstood, something I could have done better, something I should have known that I didn't. Even typing this I feel a little sick about it. I could type lists and lists if it would be helpful at all, but it won't be.

There is a worship song by Hillsong United we've been singing at my church lately, and I really liked it when I first heard it. It's called "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)", and the bridge of it, which I sang at least twenty five times the first few days after discovering it, goes like this: 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the water, wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior. 

It's a prayer. It's a prayer I prayed at least twenty five times in a few days. 

This hit me one day, in this middle of all this insecurity, that this was the prayer I had prayed. How funny that God listens to things like this and takes it seriously. To be honest, I think God took it a little more seriously than I did. But yes, I guess this is what it would feel like to be taken to a place where my trust is without borders. Yes, this is precisely what it would feel like to put my feet out onto something that will not hold me. To leave my little boat of self-assuredness. 

I cannot be a perfect person. Why do I run after this like it's a thing? It's not a thing. Why do I look at the holes in my boat and think that my salvation lies in my patching them? We weren't made this way-- to hold our own weight, to save our own selves or anyone else, to be gods. The call was not to be perfect people, the call was to be faithful people.

Faithful is a race worth running--to keep showing up after I make mistakes instead of hiding, to turn and go the other way when I've taken the wrong road yet again, to remember when I've forgotten, to return when I've run away, to trust God when I cannot trust myself, to look to Him when I'm out of myself and ideas. Faithful is a thing.

Take me deeper than I could, would go on my own.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Turning 29

It's almost my birthday, and I'm almost thirty. It's one of those markers, a before and after. I'm sitting in the middle of what I hope to be very different decades of myself, old enough now to say I'm "reflecting on my twenties" and trying to determine the course for what's next.

I would say that most of twenties were spent learning how to stand up. What does it mean to live my own life and be my own person? What does it mean to be different, to think differently, to react differently, to have had a different experience than those around me? I formed my own thoughts and strong opinions. I made my own plan and I worked it. I got married and we struck out together. So much newness and trying things for the first time. My first real jobs, my first real failures, my first real disappointments and triumphs. There are so many choices to make in your twenties. So much adventure and drama and so much learning about the world and yourself and God. And in all of this, the slow rise of my own voice. There has been a lot of anger and cries for justice. There has been a lot of asserting myself, creating boundaries, and work towards forming a community of people I love who love me. In this last decade, I have made the choices, built the foundation, set the course. Stood up. There was a lot to learning the act of getting up.

And then, the last few years have been about staying up. Standing still. Standing firm. Standing on God when everything I worked so hard to make for myself falls away. Leaning on others when I can't take it another moment by myself.

And now, in this year on the brink of 30, a new phrase has entered entirely. Not get up or stay up, but, bow down. Bend the knee.

Phil and I took a trip to Minnesota a few weeks ago to attend my college roommate's wedding. We walked around my college campus one afternoon. Being with Laura at her wedding, seeing how far and different our lives had come from those days in our dorm rooms, walking sidewalks I walked as a nineteen year old, I couldn't help but reflect on how different my life might have been in a million ways. I might have picked a different major, different friends, boyfriends, social groups, activities, housing, jobs. It all could have been so different. I thought about how I didn't know any of this at the time. I thought about how then, all those doors were wide open and there was this tremendous and exciting energy and boundlessness about the future. It struck me how different it is now. I still, obviously, have choices. But it is not the same. I have set the course.

This is my life.
This is my life!

It is something I've both had to grieve and celebrate. Maybe this is what every turning of the decade should be for a person: an acknowledgement that many doors are shut, and a celebration that I love the doors I've walked through.

I look around my devastatingly messy house as I write this, and I think, this is my house. This is no longer some duplex I am renting for 3 months and passing through. This is my chosen, beautiful, gift of a house. I think about my husband and I think, this is my husband. My chosen, incredibly talented and kind, gift of a husband. I think about my church, my family, my friends, my LIFE, and I think, okay. The time for always thinking of change and what the next door is, that time is over somewhat. Now, the task is not to make my way or create something new. The task is gratitude. The task is taking care of what I have. The task is worship, acceptance, and daily service and maintenance to this life I have been given and have made.

My twenty year old self would be in full scale eye roll to read this, but I seriously think that a large part of my thirties will be about discipline and housework and loving my husband and friends well. It will be less about opinions and more about community. Less about making my own way in the world and more about allowing God and people space in my life, as they come and not as I would have them. Hopefully I can learn to offer myself this grace as well. Less demanding, more inviting. Bowing down, not in oppression or fear, but in gratitude and graciousness and worship.

I am amazed that this sounds good and right to me. God is strange and surprising, and I am up to follow. Let it be so.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

That's a Fine Looking Kneeler

There are these really nice kneelers at my church.
Someone made them out of pew wood when the pews got taken out and chairs got put in.

You might not be a kneeling or appreciative-of-kneelers type, but it's okay, just go with it for a minute. I grew up in up in a church of altar calls and lots of kneeling, so, I have an eye for this sort of thing.

Last week, I felt like God was saying, hey- you should go kneel up there. And I totally saw God's point. I could finally pray (It's been awhile). I could finally get unstuck (I've been a little stuck). I could finally confess all that pride I've been writing blogs about and talking about and thinking about and admitting to everyone (but God).

Here's what stopped me and stops me quite often: I do not like being told what to do. By God or you or anyone else. 

Last blog post, my pride had been made known to me. And it was like, oh my gosh, yes, this is what we are dealing with here: I have a pride problem. I understood something I hadn't understood and I agreed with it. Veil lifted.

Thing is, I am still quite stuck with my pride problem.

Turns out, understanding and agreeing with something does not equal believing it or changing because of it.

Today, I drew a diagram. I will recreate it for you:

Understanding the truth and agreeing with the truth is an important and necessary beginning, but it is not faith. It does not lead to new life. Faith is harder. Faith is pushing past my “Don't tell me what to do” wall. Faith is pushing past this pride in my rebellious side (I really enjoy being a punk). Why? Because I'm afraid and that has kept me safe.

Here's the thing: it's not working.
And God is saying there is more for me. 

What's that? You'd like another diagram? Sure. 

Come to me, Kylee. Pray to me. Seek my face. Be quiet. Sit still. Bow down. Follow. (IF YOU'RE FEELING IT OR NOT). 

There is no resurrection without death. 

I confess because He tells me to, not because it's easy. I worship because He tells me to, not because I am an excellent singer or I like the song or the person singing it or feel the moment. I kneel because He told me to, not because I feel an emotion and want to respond to it. I do what He tells me to, because I signed up to follow Him. And this bowing down, this laying down of my refusal, is the path to the cross. To life. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Forgiveness: Stage 3

I have five blogs. I realize this is excessive.

I start a new blog any time a really hard thing happens in my life. This one started after I lost my job. I meant for it to be about grace, but really it's been about forgiveness. Maybe they are the same thing. Almost two years later and I am still trying to figure this out—forgiving. Here's the rundown of what this process has been like for me:

1. At first, I felt hurt and graceful. I was sure I was right, the offender was wrong, and that this was so obvious to everyone involved that all would be repented of and forgiven quickly. 

2. Then, that didn't happen. Nothing happened. So then I felt hurt and pissed. The anthem of my hurt and pissed stage has been, “I can't even imagine ever treating anyone like that and then doing nothing.” This comes in variations, but overwhelmingly, “that person is scum.”

3. Next, I started writing this blog post (stage 2 has lasted a long time).

In-between and during all of these stages, there has been one thing that has made the movement to whatever this new phase is possible: gratitude. Gratitude is saving me from a life of hurt-pissed-off-ness.

Gratitude for what I have (easy):

I am grateful for my husband. I am grateful for how much closer we are than we ever were before. I am grateful that he is in a workplace and community where he is celebrated and respected and able to bring every good part of himself to the table. I am grateful for my job. I get to write Bible studies and shop at Hobby Lobby and cry with people and braid their hair and celebrate success and say “me too” and watch God do what God does. I do that every day. I work with dedicated, genuine people. I am grateful for my dog, who is perfect. I am grateful for my church. I am grateful for the wise and beautiful women there who teach me, who love me, who welcome me, who say “me too.”

Gratitude for what I had (harder):

Cynicism steals the glory of God. The glory of God being this: He works a perfect plan through an imperfect people. It is easy, in the pissed stage, the only see the imperfections. Focusing there, I was missing the point. God was working his perfect plan. Isn't it amazing that he could do it through them? The person-who-is-scum? There were good days. I was loved and I loved. God did amazing things. We found so much of ourselves and so much healing in that place, with those people, because of our God. I can be grateful most days now.

Gratitude for my own forgiveness (hardest):

I have written a lot of other things in order to get to this—the one thing I wanted to say. This is the newest thing. It was pointed out to me that—despite my raging anthem otherwise, I am very capable of treating someone that terribly and then doing nothing.

I have held it against the offender—his pride. “How proud would you have to be not to apologize?” I say this in an incredulous tone.

And now, I confront my own. Because the next sentence in that line of thought is, “I would never do that. I am so much better than you.”

We become the things we hate.

I am a prideful person. An arrogant, angry one. I thought maybe, “I'd never act like that” would solve the problem for me—make me into a different sort of person from “them” but it doesn't work at all. It isn't true. That thought, in itself, is me being part of the exact same cycle of pride and anger that I was so wounded by. No thank you. I need a new way.

Gratitude, again, helps me find it. I've asked so long now, “how?” How am I supposed to forgive this? Stage 3: Realizing forgiveness for others flows out of my own forgiven-ness.  Stage 3: I take my pride and say, yes, me too. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Today, I Was a Beast (Not In a Good Way)

This morning, faced with a room full of love, a woman filled with shame said the old words, "If you knew who I am and what I've done, you wouldn't love me."

I heard off my own lips the new words that have been so graciously and faithfully offered to me, "you have a good heart, and we see it."

Her shame answered me. Her guilt. More old words.

"It is your good heart that feels the pain of what you've done; it is your good heart that is turning itself in; it is your good heart that wants a new way," I said and I've heard said to me.

It's funny how you can say good things when you aren't feeling good at all. Praise God.

I've been having a tough time lately. In fact, I was sort of a beast today (not in a good way).

It's amazing how fast the old ways come back: how quickly the darts start flying and the earthquakes shake me and all the sudden I am back to the old scared, lonely, self-protecting, proud, offended, balled up self.

I hate this self. I hear words coming out of my mouth and I hate them. I feel anger and anxiety and arrogance and violence rising up in me and I hate it and I can't stop it and I'm naming myself names and telling myself lies: nothing lasts, no one cares, you were tricked, you can't trust, you are alone, you are bad, wrong, worthless, and everyone knows it, or they soon will.

All day I lived like this.

Then I came home and let Hashbrown, my dog, out of his crate.

He grabbed his yellow blanket in his mouth, whole backside waving in greeting. He leaned against my legs. He waited for me to start walking, led me into the living room. He rolled onto his back on the rug, looked at me and waited for his belly rub. He licked my hand. This lasted a long time.

If I could go back, today, I would have given myself a time out. I would have been kinder to myself. I would have asked myself what I was scared of, and I would have thought about the old words and the new words. I would have told myself I have a good heart, even when I'm being a monster, and that it is this good heart that will melt when my puppy licks my hand. It is a good heart that repents. It is a good heart that remembers and is grateful. I would have taken a moment to realize I wasn't okay, that I needed to ask for a hug, a break, some more coffee and a quiet room. This is the new thing: not perfect, faithful. Faithful to return, to God, to others, to myself.

"Keep me gentle with myself. Keep me kind in disappointment." -Kathleen Norris